Hello, and welcome to another installment of Outright Geekery’s Top o’ the Lot. This is Taylor filling in for Gaumer for this installment, because quite frankly it’s been entirely too long since I got the chance to talk about super heroes punching each other. And since it’s never a bad time to talk about Batman, let’s take a look at what I think are the 5 greatest throw-downs of the Caped Crusader.
Remember that these are going to be Batman’s own personal fights, not the ones where he fought alongside others like, say, the Justice League or whoever. Also, a number of these picks are not, strictly speaking, canon DCU, but they do maintain consistency with the core of the character, and are what most people would deem “close enough.”
Honorable Mention: Batman vs Captain America from JLA/Avengers #2
Starting off our honorable mentions, we have the brief but entertaining face-off between the Dark Knight and the Sentinel of Liberty as Bruce Wayne squares off with Steve Rogers in JLA/Avengers. This is one of those great eternal debates that comic fans love to argue over, a battle between two mortal men who have pushed themselves to be more than human and to represent the very ideals they fight for. And it’s a pairing of two of the most seemingly evenly matched characters and all of comics; Cap and Bats are both master strategists with an astronomical amount of training and combat expertise coupled with the peak of human physical might. A fight like this drawn by the peerless George Perez is any comic nerd’s dream come true.
So why is it only an honorable mention? Well, do you see the image up above? That’s pretty much the entire fight. A couple of panels later, they decide to call off their fight so they can investigate the forces that are coercing their teams to fight. This serves an important part in the plot, and the exchange was good while it lasted, but I just don’t care for it when crossover fights end in premature stalemates. Oh well.
Honorable Mention: Batman vs Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman #244
Another honorable mention goes to this classic one-on-one duel between Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul. Brought to us during the legendary run of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, this story comes to us from a previous era, an era where Batman was not the unstoppable force of nature we see today. This, though, could arguably be viewed as the spark that lit that fire, as this fight serves as one of the first, great iconic moments of Batman’s sheer determination pushing him to beat dire odds.
The fight itself is drawn magnificently by Adams, who makes use of great line work and inspired panel layout. Just as things start to heat up, though, the fight ends abruptly when a scorpion of all things sneaks up on Batman knocks him out.
Admittedly, Bruce Wayne getting sucker punched by a scorpion was kind of lame, and probably the main reason this fight didn’t make the list. It still gets an honorable mention, though, because it sets up one of Batman’s greatest scenes of all time. After Talia delivers the antidote, Batman wills his way back to Ra’s, eliciting this timeless reaction.
While this may seem par for the course for the modern Caped Crusader, it was pretty groundbreaking at the time, and set things in motion to give us the Batman we know and love today. Definitely worth an honorable mention, then.
5) Batman vs Guy Gardner from Justice League #5
Starting off our Top 5, we have what is perhaps the most famous in-fight in all of comics, the infamous “One Punch” bout between Batman and Guy Gardner. After a stretch of build up that saw resident loudmouth Gardner constantly butting heads with team leader Batman, things finally come to a head as Gardner challenges the Caped Crusader to a fist fight. Batman obliges, and quickly (and I do mean QUICKLY) reminds us why you DO NOT mess with the Goddamn Batman.
Normally, I wouldn’t be a big fan of such a brief fight, but here, the brevity is the entire point. It took Batman all of one panel to put Gardner in his place, which was quite gratifying for both the real-world reader and the book’s cast, seeing as Gardner is a bit of a jerk (and especially was back then). It’s moments like this that cement Batman’s badass credentials, and it’s things like Blue Beetle’s reaction that make these moments legendary.
4) Batman vs the Joker from The Long Halloween
It wouldn’t be right make a list like this without including a standoff between Batman and his arch-nemesis, the Joker; no problems, then, because up next we have Batman taking on the Clown Prince of Crime in the skies over Gotham from the pages of The Long Halloween.
The reason I like this one so much has a lot to do with the banter between the two, or rather, the Joker’s one-sided banter played against Batman’s no-nonsense demeanor. Overall, I found that the Joker was wonderfully written by Jeph Loeb in this issue, and this in shown well in the fight as the Harlequin of Hate does his best to push Batman’s buttons.
The fight has a sort of classic appeal to it, as the two foes trade blows on an old biplane, an action movie staple, complete with Batman nearly getting decapitated by the propeller. All of this is brought to life beautifully by the highly talented Tim Sale, who gives the Joker freakish proportions set against Batman’s toned physique, further playing up the contrast between the two characters. So while this fight might not be mind-blowing in any way, it is a great example of a tried-and-true scenario handled well by a talented creative team, which is a great thing to have in your comics.
3) Batman vs Superman from The Dark Knight Returns #4
Coming in at the #3 spot, we have grand finale to Frank Miller’s highly acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns, which features the Caped Crusader facing off against the Man of Steel. Set in a possible future of the DCU, our story centers around a grizzled, elderly Bruce Wayne who had come out of retirement to fight injustice once more, which puts him at odds with the US government (which had cracked down of vigilantism), and more directly with their top enforcer, Superman.
And so the Last Son of Krypton is dispatched to bring in his old colleague, who waits for him in Crime Alley. Superman soon discovers, though, that the Dark Knight is no easy target as Batman pulls out all the stops to make his last stand.
Yet just when it seems that Batman’s defeat is inevitable, we find out that the Caped Crusader’s antics were just meant to hold Superman’s attention while Green Arrow (a one-armed old man himself) blindsides the distracted Man of Tomorrow with a Kryptonite arrow provided by Batman.
On top of being a visually stunning and well-executed fight scene, this sequence holds a place of great significance in the creation of the modern Batman. Did you catch the part where Superman called the idea of Batman trying to fight him idiotic? Well, back when this story first appeared, many of the readers would have likely agreed; this was an era when Batman had not fully developed the dark edge he has today, when he was not too dissimilar from most of his non-powered peers. The idea of him beating Superman, no matter what plan he might concoct or what help he had, was simply ridiculous. But The Dark Knight Returns was so well received and became so iconic that it changed everything. That book was, in many ways, the genesis of the hyper-competent Batman we know and love today, the Batman who could prepare for any fight, defeat any foe. This fight in particular played a huge role in that, and its importance is difficult to overstate.
2) Batman vs Planetary from Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth
Claiming the silver medal, we have the confrontation between Batman and the Planetary team from Warren Ellis’ and John Cassaday’s crossover event, Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth. The story here revolves around Planetary’s endeavors to bring into custody a young man named John Black, who possesses dangerous powers that warp and meld the multiverse in the area around him. It just so happens, though, that the chase takes place in Gotham City, so when Black’s powers bring in elements from neighboring universes, they find themselves face to face with the Batman, who is intent on bringing Black to justice on his own terms.
As the fight continues, though, Black’s powers continue to run haywire, causing Gotham to shift through various iterations.
And so it is that we began to appreciate the genius of the reality-warping mechanic that Ellis set in place, as it allows us to shift through the most iconic iterations of the Caped Crusader, so that Planetary’s fight against Batman is a struggle against every Batman.
We have Neal Adams’ iconic Batman from the 70s
Heck, even the cold-blooded Golden Age Batman shows up.
So even in terms of pure visual artistry alone, this fight is jaw-dropping; it’s a rare treat to have one book where a master like John Cassaday can tackle practically every version of a cultural icon like Batman. But on top of all of Cassaday’s stunning work, this crossover manages to maintain the core of what makes Planetary so brilliant: its ability to distill and celebrate the essence of a beloved piece of pop culture.
Batman looms larger than life in this comic, with every iteration driven by force of will and an unstoppable determination to see justice done.
And at the end of the day, he is man who wants a better world, a world where he wouldn’t need to exist.
This fight is at once a visual showcase and a retrospective on everything Batman is and what he means to pop culture.
And it’s a real slobber-knocker of a fight, too.
1) Batman vs the Mutant Leader from The Dark Knight Returns #2
Yep. The Dark Knight Returns is on here twice, because coming in at the top spot, we have Batman’s epic rematch with the leader of the Mutant Gang.
To set the stage a bit, this fight comes at the end of DKR’s second act, which centers around Batman’s struggles against a gang of youths calling themselves the Mutants, a group that had grown so expansive and garnered such fear that they had effectively become the de facto rulers of Gotham’s streets. As such, they quickly become one of the recently un-retired Batman’s top priorities for dismantling. Or at least that was the plan when Batman sprung an ambush on the gang on their own turf in the middle of the issue. When the Dark Knight tries to take on the freakishly strong Mutant Leader, though, he quickly discovers that he is no longer the fighter he used to be, and is soundly beaten.
After barely escaping with his life, things seem pretty bleak. But this is Bruce Wayne we’re talking about, and he simply does not give up. Instead, he digs deep, draws upon his resolve, and challenges his foe again. Only this time he realizes that he cannot match his opponent’s physical prowess, so he fights smart, on his terms, where his foe cannot use his advantages.
So they fight in a mud pit.
This time around, Batman knew better to let the fight be a brawl, with the two combatants just absorbing damage until one of them dropped. Instead, Batman makes the second round a contest of skill.
So your adversary is faster than you? NO ONE is fast when they’re waste-deep in mud. Your adversary it too strong? It’s hard to connect with a haymaker when you have blood and filth in your eyes. With the gang leader’s strengths neutralized, Batman takes him apart piece by piece, dislodging an elbow here, striking a nerve cluster there, all building up to this stunning finale.
Perhaps the bought with Superman did more to cement Batman’s role going forward, what with Superman being the more vastly overwhelming foe. But for me, this fight is quintessentially what Batman is all about. Batman is the hero who can be broken and struck down, but never beaten. Batman is the one who uses his wits to take down an opponent who should be out of his weight class.
Batman is the man who will crawl through the muck to seek out justice.
There is something so primal about this fight, about the visceral nature of it that makes such a powerful statement. Batman as a character went into that mud pit as a hardened vigilante. He came out as a force of nature that topples gods and monsters alike.
So that’s my list! Thanks for reading! Please be sure to let me know what you thought about it and what you might put on your list!